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Disastrous Dinners: The Smiler Accident

Last night David Sparks gave a great presentation on the Smiler Rollercoaster accident that happened at Alton Towers in 2015. This was the latest in my disastrous dinners series of events that aim to provide a talk about process safety in a social environment that everyone should be able to learn from. David’s talk certainly fitted well with the ethos of the event. Even though we are talking about serious subjects, in which people were hurt in life changing ways, it is important to learn from these events and do our best to avoid them happening again.

David had a few innovative features to his talk, which I may steal for future talks I give. One of them was the Jargon card:

A laminated card with the word 'Jargon' written on it.
Jargon Card
A laminated card with the word 'Jargon' written on it.
Jargon Card
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This was a set of cards handed out at the start. David invited anyone to hold up the card if he used a term that anyone didn’t understand. I think it only got used the once, but it was good to have it available and as a reminder to cater to everyone in the audience.

The next feature was the use of boards. Rather than using powerpoint, he had the images he wanted to use printed onto large boards. This was nice for the intimate event we had where the audience were close together. I am not sure I will necessarily use this method myself due to a couple of concerns1, but it was a nice touch and I suspect would drive an avoidance of putting in unnecessary slides.

Man holding a couple of boards with images of a rollercoaster on them.
Not Powerpoint
Man holding a couple of boards with images of a rollercoaster on them.
Not Powerpoint
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The final innovation was the use of a model. Rather than trying to talk about where each car was in the process of the event, or generating an animation, or using lots of powerpoint slides, he bought some toy cars and track pieces from ebay and constructed a simplified model of the rollercoaster:

Group of people in a pub with a toy track on the table.
The Track
Group of people in a pub with a toy track on the table.
The Track
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This allowed David to explain the sequence of events very clearly, showing where different people were located and where the cars were on the track.

Last night was the smallest event but it was a really good one all the same. I particularly enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere that encouraged discussion after the main talk. There was a lot of discussion around the response from the company, attitude towards override systems and spurious trips.

I think I will have to up my game for the next talk I give.

Notes

  1. An inability to change them when I inevitably find a mistake and I have no idea what I would do with them after the event
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